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Oprah’s OWN network makes impressive debut

OWN, the new cable network from Oprah Winfrey, got off to an impressive start in the ratings.

For its premiere last Saturday, OWN was the No. 3 cable network among women age 25 to 54 during the 8 and 9 p.m. hours, behind only ESPN and USA.

At 8 p.m., the first episode of “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes” – featuring outtakes from Winfrey’s swan song as a daytime syndicated TV host – delivered 1.2 million total viewers, according to early figures from the Nielsen Co.

Another episode at 9 also delivered 1.2 million viewers. That’s an especially robust figure, given that Saturday viewing levels are seldom high and that it was New Year’s Day.

The next night, OWN faced tougher sledding. The premiere of “Ask Oprah’s All Stars” – in which Winfrey favorites Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil and Suze Orman answered viewer questions – delivered 968,000 total viewers.

“Master Class,” a celebrity biography program, premiered to even flatter numbers: 602,000 viewers.

At least one media analyst took a guarded view of the early ratings.

“There was certainly a curiosity factor, ‘buzz’ and heavy promotions from Oprah herself to explain these strong numbers,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media in New York.

“Conan (O’Brien) also had a strong number for his premiere in November (on TBS) and quickly dropped; I would suspect the same with OWN going forward.”

But he added of the New Year’s ratings: “They effectively counterprogrammed college football for Day One.”

OWN, which took over the channel position formerly occupied by Discovery Health, is available in 67 percent of U.S. homes.